Rape kits ‘went shelved’ and back­logs built up

The Commercial Appeal - - Front Page - Matt Men­car­ini Lans­ing State Jour­nal USA TODAY NET­WORK - MICHI­GAN

Although rape kits vary by state, what they all have in com­mon that they’re in­va­sive and take hours to com­plete.

In Michi­gan, the ex­am­i­na­tion has 20 steps, in­clud­ing head-to-toe phys­i­cal as­sess­ment, dur­ing which all trauma should be doc­u­mented and pho­tographed if the pa­tient con­sents. The ex­am­iner, a spe­cially trained nurse, must wear gloves and change them be­tween each sam­ple col­lec­tion.

The kit, a 10-inch-by-6-inch white box, has sep­a­rate combs for head and pu­bic hair, an en­ve­lope for her un­der­wear or tam­pon, and vagi­nal, anal and oral swabs. There’s a sep­a­rate kit for blood and urine sam­ples.

The nurse asks about the vic­tim’s med­i­cal his­tory, the last time she uri­nated or defe­cated, what her at­tacker did to her. Has she show­ered or brushed her teeth? Was she vagi­nally, anally or orally raped? Or all three? There are di­a­grams as well. The an­swers writ­ten on car­bon copy sheets and in Michi­gan, one copy goes to law en­force­ment, one copy is for the med­i­cal record and one is kept in the kit, which is sealed and ide­ally sent for test­ing.

How­ever, untested rape kits in the tens of thou­sands have been iden­ti­fied in cities like Detroit, Cleve­land, New York, Los Angeles and Mem­phis.

Some cities have said a lack of fund­ing con­trib­uted to these some­times decades-old back­logs, but ad­vo­cates and re­searchers have pushed back, say­ing that for decades rape cases have not been a pri­or­ity for law en­force­ment.

“They had all sorts of ways of dis­count­ing it, so they would never even do an in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” said Re­becca Camp­bell, a Michi­gan State Uni­ver­sity re­searcher who stud­ied Detroit’s back­log.

“We see that a lot in untested kits, that the vic­tim wasn’t per­ceived to be the per­fect vic­tim and there­fore wasn’t worth their in­sti­tu­tional and their in­di­vid­ual time, at­ten­tion and re­sources to in­ves­ti­gate,” she said.

“So they didn’t in­ves­ti­gate and they didn’t test the kit, and it all went shelved.”

A study funded by the National In­sti­tute of Jus­tice found that 18 per­cent of un­solved sex­ual as­saults from more than 2,000 law en­force­ment agen­cies in­cluded DNA ev­i­dence that had not been sent for test­ing.

And re­searchers found that 40 per­cent of law en­force­ment didn’t send ev­i­dence for DNA test­ing be­cause, among other rea­sons, they hadn’t iden­ti­fied a sus­pect whose DNA they could test against the sam­ples in the rape kit. This fail­ure to test sam­ples un­less a sus­pect was already iden­ti­fied led re­searchers to con­clude that some law en­force­ment agen­cies don’t fully un­der­stand the value of DNA ev­i­dence in rape cases. Con­tact Matt Men­car­ini at (517) 2671347 or mmen­car­[email protected] Fol­low him on Twit­ter @Mattmen­car­ini.

Untested rape kits in the tens of thou­sands have been iden­ti­fied in cities like Detroit, Cleve­land, New York, Los Angeles and Mem­phis. MARVIN FONG / THE PLAIN DEALER

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.